Monday, June 29, 2009

The Early Years of the Hastings Literature Club

By Julia House

Editor’s Note: This year the Hastings Literature Club, the oldest cultural organization in Hastings, celebrates its 100th anniversary. Its first president was Julia House, author of last week’s reminiscence on the village in the first decade of the 20th century. Julia and John House lived in the Tower Ridge area from 1903 until 1909, when they built themselves a new house on Sheldon Place. Julia describes it as “up in the fields where we used to take the children to pick daisies and look at the cows.” Even before the move, Julia had become involved with a group that later became the Literature Club. What follows is an edited version of an informal history of that organization that Julia wrote in 1942.

I think I may claim for that early group that they did work their brains just a little harder than we do to-day. We made our programs with the idea of not merely reading a book and then sharing the best of it with the Club; we were supposed to take a literary subject, read as many books as we could get hold of and could find time to read on that subject – then boil down the knowledge thus gained, and to the best of our ability, in a strictly limited time, present it to the Club. In short, we wrote papers and we read our papers, and I really wish that some of the best of those papers could have been preserved along with the records, just to show what we could do in those days. …

The Club began as a very small group, probably in 1905 or ’06 – the exact date seems to have become lost in the mists of antiquity – when a few women in Yonkers began meeting to read and discuss books. Sarah Hine [wife of photographer Lewis W. Hine] and Josephine Murlin [wife of John R. Murlin] were the prime movers in this modest enterprise. There were others whose names I have forgotten as they dropped out when the group became centered in Hastings.

This came through the Murlins moving to Hastings. Soon after they came here, Mrs. Murlin invited some of her new friends, who were later to be her neighbors on Locust Hill, to join the group. That was when Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. [Ina] Griswold, Mrs. [Margaret] Sanger, Mrs. Matthew, and I came in, making it a considerably larger circle. Mrs. Hine and Mrs. Middleton still came up from Yonkers faithfully and the rest of us frequently jogged down there in the trolley for meetings with them.

Ina Griswold, one of the founding members of the Literature Club, on the far left, attends a meeting of the club around 1960 in the home of Phyllis Andrews. Her daughter Ruth sits with her back to the camera, and across from her are Harriet Haug (right), and possibly Miriam Pomeroy (next to Ina).

Naturally with so few members, each one entertained often, but the entertaining was very simple. Tea was the only beverage ever served, and with it we might have crackers or maybe some peppermints. So it wasn’t much of a burden on the hostess and left our minds pretty free for Literature. The custom of bringing our sewing or knitting to the meeting dates from those early days, when we were only too glad to sit quietly and darn the children’s socks or let down the hems of their dresses, away from the little dears for a time, and to the soothing accompaniment of good literature. I am glad that, as we have grown bigger, we have still kept to those informal ways and are still more like a gathering of real country neighbors than a proper women’s club. …

In 1909 we actually became a Club, for then we adopted a constitution and elected officers – a President, Secretary, and a Chairman of the Program Committee. … For the first few years, our programs were mostly based on syllabi of Literature courses given at Columbia, but after a while we got away from those, and our Program Committees depended on the preparatory reading they did themselves as a basis for the year’s work. …

The Literature Club's certificate from the New York State Education Department registering it as a "study club" in 1910.

After doing English literature with some degree of thoroughness, we turned to the literature of other lands – France, Germany, Russia, Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, getting a great deal of pleasure and at least some new knowledge. After we felt we had had enough of foreign culture for the time being, we turned to our American writers and found that a great deal was to be learned about them, more than we had studied in school. We found fresh viewpoints and new appreciation of familiar writers. …

I was under the impression that during the First World War we suspended our meetings for at least one winter for I seem to remember nothing of that year of 1917 but making surgical dressings in Mrs. Fink’s dining room. But it seems we did keep up our regular meetings listening to the programs while doing this work and always meeting at the same place where the materials were kept. That was a sober time, but I am sure we were drawn closer together, not only our group but the whole community, by the strains of the times. …

And it is good that we can still go on together for a while, old friends and newer ones. Our Club has enlarged our vision and brought us into contact with great minds, but most of all it has been a source of both inspiration and relaxation because of the friendly feeling, the almost family feeling of it, the welcome sympathy in times of trouble, the never failing interest of each one in all the rest. May there always be a Woman’s Literature Club of Hastings-on-Hudson.

A portrait of Mrs. Julia House in 1918.

The Historical Society has a large collection of material from the Literature Club, including an (almost) complete set of programs. The records have been organized for us by members Barbara Thompson and Helen Barolini, and Susan Korsten and Diana Jaeger have created the display on the club that is currently on view at the Historical Society. Christine Lehner, another member, is gathering material for an article about the club and its history. Watch the Hastings Literature Club blog for more information.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mystery Photo: Dedication of Hillside Park Swimming Pool

Here are three photographs of the dedication ceremony for the Hillside Park Swimming Pool. They were taken in 1965, though we don’t know the exact date. Perhaps it was late spring, at the beginning of the pool season. After the death of young Julius “Butch” Chemka in 1983, the swimming pool was renamed in his memory.

We have a few identifications for the photographs. In the top photograph, for example, the woman in the front row facing the camera is Janet Wagner, wife of Mayor R. Sheldon Wagner. And next to her is Rev. Edmund Fabisinski from St. Stanislaus Kostka. But we’d like to know more! Do you recognize anyone else? Do you happen to know the date of the dedication ceremony? Let us know!

If you don’t know, but are curious about the answers, come back to the blog and check this post. We’ll attach comments with any information we receive.

Mayor Sheldon R. Wagner addressing the crowd at the dedication.

Pool life guards, including Steve Zahurak standing at the far right, and Lane Pettibone kneeling on the left. Do you recognize any of the others?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Our Village in 1909

by Julia House

Editor’s Note: As much fun as it is to look at hundred-year-old photographs of Hastings, it’s even more exciting to have someone tell us what Hastings was really like in 1909. This reminiscence is an edited version of “A Long Look Backward,” an article written by Julia House around 1955, which we recently uncovered in a box of papers from the Literature Club. Julia moved to Hastings as a newlywed in 1903, and here’s what she has to say about her early years in Hastings.

Warburton Avenue in 1909

Hastings was a sleepy village in those days. None of the streets were paved, and the occasional motor-car was something to stare at. In summer the watering-cart jogged up the main streets, wetting down the dust. The Brandt mansion, now occupied by the Veterans, was almost concealed by masses of shrubbery.…

I had never known a place like Hastings, and it took me some time to feel a part of it. It was so different from my New England, and so I called it very Dutch….

Mr. Joe Murphy, proprietor of the “Bridge Grocery” sent us a polite letter, asking us to deal with him. This was flattering, and we at once became customers. Each morning Mr. Murphy or his assistant would call at the back door to take orders, and deliver in the afternoon. It was not long, however, before we were notified that since so many people now had telephones, the orders would in future be given by that means. We had not contemplated anything so startling, but now it seemed we really needed a ‘phone, so it was duly installed in our little hall. It was not handsome, but it did look important, sitting up there on the wall, with its crank at the side which, briskly turned, would summon the operator.…

Fred Breyer in his market ca. 1909

My marketing, for meat, was mostly at Breyer’s, on Spring Street near Maple Avenue. In winter, the market was as cold inside as out-doors, and Mr. and Mrs. Breyer, both large, were swathed in so many garments they were positively gigantic. In summer, they must have had ice for the meat, and returned to normal size.…

There was little social life, as far as I could see. The men got to know each other, going to the city on the train, and sometimes would bring their wives together, but card-playing seemed to be the only amusement….

The Tower Ridge Yacht Club in 1905

Our great boon was the Yacht Club, so near us, and easily reached (I thought then) by a long flight of wooden steps going down into the ravine and a bridge over the railroad tracks. My husband enjoyed the sailing races on Saturday afternoons and could always have a job as able-bodied seaman on somebody’s boat, until he had one of his own, shared with a friend. But the sailing was not very good. Thunder-storms were always coming up, or else the boats would be becalmed, and sometimes they wouldn’t get in until midnight.

The Club was a paradise for the boys of the neighborhood, as it was later for our own sons. There they learned to swim – the river was cleaner then – and played among the boats under the watchful eye of wiry little Ed Cook, “Cap” to them, as to their fathers. Cap had strong language at his command, but usually the boys obeyed him without his resorting to it….

You would hardly believe what a nice little beach there was, down by the riverside, before the tracks were moved out to their present location. I used to take my young son down there to play contentedly with shovel and pail, and watch the boats on one side and the “choo-choos” on the other. We early acquired a small rowboat, and used to venture across the river on calm days, but it was a venture, since we never could be sure it would stay clam. It usually didn’t, and the return trip was sometimes too exciting to be pleasant. But we enjoyed exploring the other side, which seemed a different world, quaint and quiet, with its old stone cottages and winding, uphill roads. Hastings seemed almost urban when we got back to it.

Gus Wagner in his sleigh in 1905

Our first two winters were extremely cold, with snow on the ground all winter. People drove across the river in sleighs, and we used to drag our baby across, tucked up in a box on a sled. Those two winters were something to remember, with the wind roaring down from the North Pole, and blowing right into our defenseless little house. It was a wonder we and it were not blown away entirely. It was impossible to keep warm, with the old hot-air furnace, a fireplace in the dining-room, in which we burned cannel coal, and the kitchen stove, which perhaps did the best job. Our relatives in the city did have something on us, then. But in spite of the rough winter, we still loved our home by the river….

Julia House’ reminiscences continue next week with the early history of the Literature Club. Julia was the first president of this club, which was founded in 1909.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mystery Photo: High School Gym Class?

Here are four photographs showing girls in what seem to be school gym uniforms. We’re guessing that the photographs were taken some time in the early 1950s. In the top photograph, one of the girls is holding a baseball bat. In one of the others, the girls are holding batons and standing in front of what looks like the door to the Farragut Inn on the corner of Warburton Avenue and Spring Street. Maybe they have been in a parade?

Do you recognize any of the girls? Let us know!

If you don’t know, but are curious about the answers, come back to the blog and check this post. We’ll attach comments with any information we receive.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

The New Historian Mails Today!

Today the hardy Historical Society volunteers gather once more to prepare the Hastings Historian for the post. They have even more work than usual because this Historian is going to all the households in the village – more than 4,000 of them!

No one who has followed the Society’s doings over the past six months will be surprised to learn that the lead article in this issue is on the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration. With Roger Panetta’s lecture in January and the opening of our own Hudson-Fulton exhibition here at the cottage in April, we have been immersed in this festival that galvanized the entire village one hundred years ago.

And you know how it is when you have something on the brain – you find it everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, after the Historian had gone to press, we were looking through Arthur C. Langmuir’s scrapbooks on Hastings history. They have never been thoroughly indexed, and on page 51 of volume II, we found this wonderful photograph that we didn’t even know we had. The caption says that it is a photograph of the Protection Engine Company firehouse decorated for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration.

Those who recognize Langmuir’s name may wonder why his scrapbook contains such an early photograph. Langmuir moved to Hastings in 1919 and his incredible collection of 1000+ photographs of the village all date to the 1920s and 30s. But Langmuir was a history nut. He begged and borrowed photographs of early Hastings from other local photographers, like Harriet Draper, Fred Berbert, and Joseph A. Devine. The photograph you see above has a handwritten note next to it reading “copied from a negative loaned by George T. Sackett.” Sackett was a local druggist and amateur photographer who came to Hastings in the 19th century. Some of our earliest photographs of the village, and the best photographs we have of the Hudson-Fulton celebration, were taken by George Sackett.

On page 55 of the same scrapbook, there are two more of Sackett’s fire company photographs from the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. The first is a copy of a photograph we have in our Sackett collection, and it is up in our exhibition. It shows the Protection Engine firetruck in front of the same firehouse, maybe even on the same day. The caption with the photograph adds the information that the horse used was borrowed from the Chrystie family who owned the large estate at Five Corners where the A&P grocery store is today.

The other photograph on the page shows a fire hose on wheels decorated with bunting and flags. The photograph does not have a caption, but this same equipment appears in the background of another photograph showing the National Conduit & Cable Company’s fire brigade. They marched along with the Protection Engine Company and the Uniontown Hose Company in Hastings’ own Hudson-Fulton parade on October 5th, 1909. (You will read much more about this parade and all the other Hudson-Fulton festivities in the Historian.) The place where the photograph was taken, however, is a mystery. Does anyone recognize the location?

We hope you enjoy this Historian, and that it makes you as excited about the Hudson-Celebration as we are. If it does, make some time to visit the Historical Society and see our exhibition!
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mystery Photo: High School Play

The Historical Society’s collection contains almost 150 photographs of theatrical productions. There are Christmas pageants and benefits for the fire companies, the Tower Ridge Yacht Club, and the V.F.W. There are even more photographs of school productions. And it wasn’t just the Drama Club who took to the stage. The History Club, the French Club, and the senior class all had their own productions. Unidentified shows can often be traced by scanning the old yearbooks for similar photographs.

Occasionally, there are photographs like these four that don’t appear in any yearbook. They seem to all be of the same production. They are undated, but resemble photographs that were taken in the 1940s. Do you recognize the production? What do you remember about it? Do you recognize any of the players? That would date the photographs and help us to find someone who remembers the play. To see an enlarged version of the photograph, click on it and then click on the "All Sizes" link right above it.

If you don’t know, but are curious about the answers, come back to the blog and check this post. We’ll attach comments with any information we receive.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Sidewalks of Hastings

by Judy Chamberlain

When I was almost seven, my parents trusted me to walk to and from church each Sunday with my cousin David. He was a year and a half older than I was, so I guess they figured he was responsible enough to see that I got to St. Matthew’s safely and delivered to the nuns in time for 9AM Mass. Actually, we very rarely walked together. I usually trailed behind him, surveying the sidewalks along Warburton Avenue and trying not to step on any cracks.

I always found sidewalks very interesting and measured my walks accordingly; they were my distance guideposts. Close to my home on Nodine Street, the sidewalks were large rectangular pieces of smooth stone in pale shades of grey, blue, or rose that lay side by side by side. Next came the wide cement sidewalk, perfect for roller-skating, with patterns made by masons rather than by nature. This cement section lasted past the little grocery store and Mrs. Gondek’s office near the corner of Division Street. When you crossed Division, you walked on a tamped-down dirt path with wildflowers and weeds hugging the rock on your right, almost all the way to Williams Street. Nearing that corner, it was flat slate again. Then, after you crossed at the light at Washington, you stepped onto six-sided, black and white asphalt blocks. Here you practically had to walk on your toes if you wanted to stay within the lines.

Crossing the bridge was a breeze because the wide sidewalk was cement with pencil-thin horizontal lines every two feet or so, easy to hop over. On the other side of the bridge, and up to the corner near the Sugar Bowl, those hexagon tiles reappeared and carried you to the Main Street light. From Ben-Sun’s corner on down -- past the Center Restaurant, Kalender’s, the VFW wall, Manor Market, and Nana’s lunch -- I think it was just cement, but I’m not sure because I usually picked up my pace and ran the rest of the way so I wouldn’t be late for Mass.

This was the route we were instructed to take so that we didn’t have to cross Warburton, which most parents considered a major thoroughfare that required an adult to “cross” you. We were supposed to return home the same way, on the east side of the avenue, but many times we didn’t. Instead, we’d blend into the crowd sprinting from church to get to the Village Bakery before all the jelly doughnuts and crumb buns were gone. Once on the west side of Warburton, we might get to see the fire truck, if Protection Engine’s door were open, or browse the window displays of the shops and Whelan’s Drug.

We always moved faster once we crossed the bridge. Since we had to arrive together, there wasn’t time to avoid the cracks and there were few shop windows to attract our attention. It was just one apartment house after another, until we came to Pantalemon’s ice cream shop. It drew us in like a magnet. Bundles of newspapers with the funny paper sections on top lined the tables in front of the soda fountain on the left. On the right side of the shop was the glass case that displayed the penny candy. That’s what we called it, but some cost a nickel and others were two for a penny. Bubble gum, tootsie roll pops, papers covered with colored dots, Mary Janes and jawbreakers in box after box, and all at eye level. Such decisions! Neither of us ever had much money, but between the two of us, we could always get something to make the last steps of our trip the most enjoyable. Besides not telling we’d stopped in, our only other rule was that we had to eat everything we bought before we got home.

With our little brown bag of goodies, we dawdled from flat stone to flat stone until we reached the next set of apartments. There we would wait for some kind adult to cross us back over the big street so we could make our way up the hill to our apartments.

Editor's Note: The photographs in this post were taken by A.C. Langmuir in the 1930s, but they still make great illustrations for Judy's memories of Hastings sidewalks in the 1950s.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mystery Photo: Hastings Woman’s Club

Here is a new kind of puzzle for you. These ladies, members of the Hastings Woman’s Club’s Beautification Committee, are posing for a photographer at the Astor Hotel in New York on March 8th, 1966. They are all very pleased because they have just received two prizes in the Federated Garden Clubs’ Civic Beautification Contest. One prize was for their efforts to improve the appearance of the area around the Youth Center. The second was for their work on Station Plaza, American Legion Plaza, and Tompkins Island.

Their names and accomplishments were written up in the local paper a few days later. Unfortunately this is the format of the names:

Mrs. Austin Wagner, Mrs. Elliott Herman, Mrs. Mario Geminiani, Mrs. Harold Reynolds, Mrs. Lewis Willing, Mrs. Cloy Meiske, Mrs. Raymond Garman, Mrs. Joseph Albaum, Mrs. Robert Rusch, Mrs. James Berston, Mrs. Roy Berry, Mrs. Earle Adams, Mrs. Clyde Payne, Mrs. Charles Conklin, Miss Ethel McWade, and Mrs. Frank McCarthy.

So -- apart from Ethel McWade, Mary Berston, and Mrs. Elliott Herman, better known to us as Kitty Nakagawa -- what are their first names? Which of the sixteen named are in the photograph? And which is which? And, by the way, where is Tompkins Island?
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Monday, June 1, 2009

Lewis W. Hine’s photographs of Hastings in the George Eastman House collection

Part II

Photo courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

In last Monday’s post we showed you three of Lewis Wickes Hine’s photographs of our town, and here are a few more. They were all taken after 1917, when Hine moved his family to Hastings. Over time, the Hines became a true Hastings family. Lewis was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the local Rotary Club. His wife Sara joined the Garden Club and the Literature Club. And their son Corydon went to the Hudson River Day School, and later to the public high school. They also made many friends in Hastings, and this network helped support the Hines during the 1920s and 1930s when the family had to struggle to make ends meet. One of Hine's friends was Louis Finkelstein.

The photograph above, taken possibly around 1931, shows Rose and Louis Finkelstein sitting in their living room with their children Rita and Gerald. It is an important historical document for us because the little boy depicted in it grew up to be the first president of the Hastings Historical Society. Louis Finkelstein was a dentist, and he often accepted goods from his neighbors in trade for his services. Those goods included photographs taken by Lewis Hine.

Photo courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

We can be more precise in the date of this photograph. It appears in a booklet published in 1929 by the Chamber of Commerce called “Our Home Town in Word and Picture.” 1929 was an important year for Hastings-on-Hudson – the 50th anniversary of its incorporation in 1879 – and the booklet was printed to commemorate this event. It was part community directory and part telephone directory for those 900 or so individuals and businesses that had the instrument. Hine was a member of the Chamber of Commerce himself and contributed 8 photographs to the booklet, five of which are included in George Eastman House’s collection. This one shows the complex of school buildings on Farragut Avenue. In the foreground is the 1904 Farragut Building, and at the right is the “new” High School building, which had been completed in 1927.

Photo courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

Thomas F. Reynolds was a glove importer who lived in the big house on the northeast corner of Villard Avenue and Broadway. In 1910 he became a village trustee and then village president in 1917. If you combine all his terms in office, he spent a total of fifteen years as leader of the village, first as president and then as mayor. Reynolds Field was named in his honor in 1924.

George Eastman House has twelve of Hine’s portraits of Reynolds and an additional twenty of other Hastings village officials: William Ward Tompkins (president 1895-1897), and village trustees Frederick H. Charles, Francis E. Curry, and James C. Magee. These photographs ended up adorning the interior of the Municipal Building, and most likely they were taken for that purpose.

One of Hine's 1929 photographs of the Municipal Building, as it appeared in "Our Home Town in Word and Picture."

The Municipal Building, too, was built in 1929, and Lewis Hine is recorded as having been the official photographer for the cornerstone dedication ceremony in April of that year. He seems to have been just as careful in shooting a building as in taking a portrait. “Mr. Hine,” the Hastings News reports, “was hindered by his timing somewhat and many thought he was shooting a “talkie.” It seemed that the kids were making too much noise for the “shot” or they were closing in on the celebrities, but at Mr. Hine’s request, room was cleared for a complete view. This snap held up proceedings a short time. Luckily for those on the platform that it was not a “talkie” for many of the remarks among the jokesters there were not appropo to the occasion.” Wouldn’t we love to get hold of the photographs Hine took that day?

There are many other interesting images of Hastings-on-Hudson in George Eastman House’s “Lewis Wickes Hine Negative Series.” If you want to explore them, click this link, which will take you to the thumbnail view at the end of the series. Most of the Hastings related images are grouped toward the end of the series, so the best way to approach the photographs is to start at the end and work your way backward using the “Previous” link at the top and bottom of the page. Many are not identified as Hastings, so keep your eyes open!
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